Check our section “Panama at a Glance” or for general facts and figures for Panama.
Time zone: Panama time is five hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and one hour ahead of Central American countries (if you are arriving from Costa Rica, remember to change your watch). Panama is the same time as USA Eastern Standard Time when US time is not adjusted for daylight savings; during USA daylight savings time, Panama equals US Central time. Electricity: mainly 110v - some 220v.
When entering the country, you must show the following documents to the Inspector of the National Office of Immigration and Naturalization:
- Passport with visa, valid for at least 6 months (if necessary)
- International boarding card, properly completed
- Tourism Card or Visa, authorized accordingly.
- Fare or return trip ticket to home country or next destination.
- Required financial solvency should not be less than five hundred balboas ($500.00) or its equivalent in credit card, bank reference, and letter of employment or travelers checks, in addition to an additional amount, according to nationality. (Resolution 1017 bis of March 22, 2000).
Additional requirements vary according to nationality and are subject to change. You are recommended to check with a Panamanian Consulate or Embassy or ticketing agents for airlines that fly to Panama to obtain the most updated information.
List of countries that do not require a stamped visa to enter Panama
Germany, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Chile, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Spain, Finland, France, Great Britain, Greece (Hellenic Republic), Guatemala, Holland, Holy See (The Vatican), Honduras, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Nicaragua, Norway, Paraguay.
If your country does not appear on this list, you can obtain a tourist visa in the Panamanian consulate in your country. In case you need a tourist card to enter Panama, you may purchase one for $5.00 from the airline when you check-in your luggage. If it is not sold there, one can be purchased from the Immigration Authority upon arrival at the national airport.
List of countries that require visa or tourist card to enter Panama
Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belice, Bermudas, Canada, Colombia, Estados Unidos, Granada, Guyana, Island, Jamaica, Japan, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Samoa, San Cristobal and Nevis, San Marino, San Tome and Príncipe, San Vicent and Grenadines, Santa Lucía.
The tourist card is valid for 30 days. If you choose to stay longer, request an extension 7 days prior to the expiration of the first 30 days at the migration office. For more information visit: www.migracion.gob.pa. If you are willing to extend your stay in Panama up to 90 days, make sure to visit the immigration office in Panama City, David or Chitre, which are the only offices that can issue an extension, prior at least two weeks before the expiration of 30 days. It might take you some time to collect all necessary documents for the extension.
List of countries that require stamped visa to enter Panama
Chad, Ecuador, Egypt, Philippines, Haití, Peru, Dominican Republic, Russia, Thailand. If your country is not listed above, contact your nearest Panamanian Consulate or Embassy or the Panamanian Immigration office Tel: 507-227-1448 Fax: 507-227-1227
For information regarding Pensionado and other Residence Visas, 2nd Passports etc. click here
You may enter Panama with 200 cigarettes and 3 bottles of liquor tax free. If you try to leave Panama with articles made from endangered species you may be severely punished.
How to get here
Panama is the land bridge between two continents and divides two oceans, making it a crossroads of the world. Each year hundreds of cruise ships transit a modern wonder of the world, the Panama Canal. International Airlines serving Panama include not only those from North and South America but also from Spain, Russia, Taiwan and Israel. The following cities in the USA are currently the main connection points for flights to and from Panama: Miami, Orlando, Houston, Newark, New York, Washington DC, Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
Panama’s International Airport is Tocumen International Airport, approximately 35 Kilometers from downtown Panama City. The airport has an easy access to the city by constructed highway with toll booths. One way toll from Tocumen to the city is approximately 2.00 US dollars.
Below you can see the list of foreign airlines which provide service in Panama.
- American Airlines
- Delta Airlines
- Taca Group
- Continental Airlines
- Copa Airlines Colombia (before Aero República)
- LACSA (Lineas Aéreas Costarricenses S.A)
- Mexicana de Aviación, S. A.
- Rapsa Venezolana
- Santa Bárbara
- Spirit Airlines
Panama’s national airline Copa Air flies to major cities in South America and cities in the USA in alliance with Continental Airlines. Land crossings are also possible from Costa Rica with border points at Paso Canoas, Sixaola/Guabito and Rio Sereno. However, there are no roads linking Panama and Colombia. Panama City is approximately 5000 km by road from the nearest US city Brownsville, Texas.
However, the costs of insurance, fuel, permits, accommodations etc. usually amount to more than the cost of an airline ticket, so most visitors choose to fly and rent a car upon arrival in Panama. Panama has no railway connections with other countries, but there a train connecting cities of Colon and Panama. As from May 2012 city of Colon, Panama and Cartagena, Columbia has a ferry connection three times per week.
The ferry is becoming popular mean of transportation for overlanders and other tourists, as before Columbia was only reachable by air due to thick and wild forests of Darien Gap. There are also charter flight services available, travelling from Canada and Italy, to some areas inside the Republic. Check with your travel agent or adviser.
Panama has a good domestic flight network, the main domestic airlines are Helix Craft Trading Corporation and Air Panama, assessed by the US Federal Aviation as operated in compliance with international aviation standards. All domestic airlines operate out of Panama’s main domestic airport, Aeropuerto Marcos A. Gelabert, located in the Albrook area of Panama City, commonly known as Albrook Airport.
Be aware that baggage weight allowance on domestic flights is a total of 25 lbs. (about 14 kg) for checked baggage and carry on combined. You will also be asked to state your body weight at check in. The small domestic planes have maximum weight limits. Overweight charges (for baggage) varies according to destination, but is rarely more than $1.00 per pound. If you are traveling inside Panama with big luggage, you may ask Air Panama to send your luggage as Cargo, the rate will be cheaper than to pay for the overweight and you will avoid any problems at the check in stand. Showing good manners and being friendly with airport staff is also a good tip for such case.
Car rental is fairly expensive in Panama. Car rental agencies have offices at most airports, and locations in main cities. Major rental agencies include Economica, National, Thrifty, Budget, Avis and Hertz. Rates generally include mandatory insurance and unlimited mileage. To rent a car, you must be 25 years of age (23 if you pay by AMEX) and hold a valid driver’s license.
When you accept your rental car be sure to inspect it carefully and note any damages, scratches, or missing items on the rental agreement, as you could be charged when the car is returned. In Panama City and other major cities, it is not necessary to rent a car as taxis are reasonably priced and readily available – except when it is raining! Taxis can be hailed on the street and often sound their horn to show their availability. Don’t be surprised that the taxi that stops for you already contains other passengers. Taxis do not operate with meters although there are fixed rates for certain destinations.
Make sure you agree on the fare with the driver before getting into a car if you don’t to be caught by surprise. Do not be afraid to bargain for longer distances. Consult your hotel information desk for rate recommendations. Taxis can also be rented by the hour or for longer periods. Another alternative is to hire a personal car driver, whose information can be provided by hotels and travel agencies. Professional terrestrial transportation agencies will furnish comfortable vans or mini buses, equipped with air conditioning, with capacity to accommodate 4 people or more. This is the safest way to go.
Panama has an excellent, inexpensive bus system linking most communities in the country. The main bus terminal is close to Albrook Airport. Routes between major cities are served by large Mercedes air-conditioned buses with video screens and reclining seats. Coaster buses run on smaller town links. The buses are very cheap. However, smaller urban and suburban routes can be slow and crowded.
Panama has a new bus system for transportation throughout the city called Metrobus. Additionally, it has routes along the north and south corridors that offer roads for faster traffic, to be able to reach your destination more quickly. This system of bus routes is efficiently organized, resulting in reduced wait times at bus stops and a guaranteed bus frequency, making your trip reliable. The buses are accessible only by Metrobus card (no cash) which are sold and can be refilled in a number of locations throughout Panama city including malls, supermarkets, visitors’ centers etc.
However as on the end of 2012 you may still see national buses called “Diablo Rojo” (Red Devil) circulating on the streets of major cities and urban communities. The government is trying to eliminate them from the streets but so far still struggling to implement the new law. The Diablo Rojo is the subject to disappear in the near future in Panama to open the doors for new Metrobus and soon to be completed first metro line.
When to visit
If you are a business traveler, your business may dictate the time of your visit, but if you do have a choice you should be aware that Panama has two main seasons. The drier summer season is the main tourist season and runs from December to April. The rainier season is from the May to November. This is particularly true for the Pacific southern part of Panama.
Panama has a tropical climate and in this area long periods of rain are rare. Heavy downpours followed by sunshine are more usual. On the Caribbean side, the rain is more general but less during February/March and September/October. Darien is the wettest part of Panama. Temperatures are typically hot in the lowlands and beach areas, (21 to 32 degrees centigrade) and cooler in the mountain areas (10 to 18 degrees centigrade). Panama lies below the hurricane belt. Growing international interest in Panama as a tourist destination has extended the length of tourist season.
Panama does not print bank notes, so since 1904 the US dollar has been the legal tender and US coins interchangeable with Panamanian coins of the same denominations, similar sizes and metals are used. The dollar bill is called the Balboa, cents are centavos.
Prices are often written with $ sign or B/.before the amount. Large denomination dollar bills can be difficult to change in Panama, particularly outside Panama City. Even for $50 bills you may be asked to sign a book and give your passport number (most of places will even ask you to photocopy your ID). $20 bills are the most convenient, but in country areas where prices are low you are advised to carry smaller bills.
With the exception of the Banco Nacional counter at Tocumen International Airport, it is only possible to exchange foreign currency at exchange houses (casa de cambio). You will find some in Panama City but few in the rest of the country.
Travellers’checks are infrequently received in Panama, particularly those in currencies other than US dollars. American Express Travellers’checks are preferred. Credit cards The use of credit cards is rapidly increasing, particularly in hotels, restaurants and travel agencies in the major cities. Cash advances can be difficult although Banco Nacional is helpful and transaction amounts are limited. Credit cards are accepted in almost all department stores and boutiques. Even for buying tickets for concerts and other events.
These are increasingly available throughout Panama. Look for signs that show links to Cirrus and Plus in addition to Mastercard etc. Amounts that can be withdrawn vary from bank to bank.
According to Act 8 of March 15, 2010, which amended the Fiscal Code, the air, sea and land transportation companies, as well as passengers, shall pay ITBMS tax. In Panama, 7% of ITBMS is charged on public entertainment, events, seminars, conferences, lectures and artistic, professional and sport presentations in general that are not free and whose annual incomes are over $36,000. The importation and sale of alcoholic beverages, as well as hotel or lodging services, jewelry and weapons will pay 10 percent of ITBMS. Tobacco derivatives (such as cigarettes, cigars, and snuff) will pay 15% of ITBMS. Cable TV, microwave, satellite and mobile phones will pay 5% of ITMBS.Communications.
The country code for Panama is 507. Telephone numbers are 7 digit numbers. There are no city codes. The three main service providers are Cable & Wireless, TeleCarrier (CableOnda) and Telefonica, although since deregulation this is changing. Blue public telephones usually require plastic cards (tarjetas) purchased in various denominations from markets or other businesses and can be used for local or international calls.
Local pay phones accept coins for local calls. Internet cafes, found in most major towns, offer communication via the internet. Major hotels provide internet, international telephone and fax services. Fax services are also available at Cable & Wireless offices throughout the country. Cellular networks both have plan and prepaid services including 4G internet. Among the major operators are Digicel, Movistar, Movi+ and others.
Stamps may be purchased from your hotel or a post office. To send or receive important items, it is preferable to use a courier service.
In January, for a week, Panama Jazz Festival takes place at various sites in Panama City. In addition to Panama and Latin American talent, the event brings real music stars coming from Europe, the USA and Canada that show their talent, including free concerts to the public (no charge). It is organized by the Danilo Perez Foundation.
January and February are full of national fairs throughout the country, including one of the biggest of them in Veraguas, Sona, Industrial, Agricultural, Craft and Tourism Fair. The Veraguas Fair Board prepares programs that range from traditional dances with the best national artists to the hottest night clubs in the country, which combined with the exhibitions of all kinds of merchandise and handicrafts, fair rides, the beauty of the landscape and numerous other attractions represent a significant reason to visit the town and the surrounding region.
This fair benefits the entire population, from small craftmakers and merchants that offer their services for dining or lodging to the large companies that make their presence known at this spectacular event. Carnaval (carnival) is one of the biggest celebrations over the four days preceding Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Music and dancing culminates in parades on Mardi Gras. Celebrations are biggest in Panama City, Penonome and Las Tablas. Semana Santa (Easter week) is celebrated throughout Panama. Religious processions on Good Friday and Easter Sunday are held in most communities. By law, alcoholic beverages are not sold from 12 noon on Thursday to 12 noon on Sunday, celebrations at the Villa de Los Santos, on the Península de Azuero are particularly famous.
The Festival of the Black Christ at Portobelo on October 21 includes a parade of the famous life-size statue of the Black Christ, and attracts pilgrims from all over the country. From May through October runs the concerts season, organized by the National Association of Music. Classical music invades every month the National Theatre, featuring musicians and orchestras from around the world, from Tokyo to New York and Buenos Aires. Every two years, Panama houses the Book Fair where many publishing houses from all over the world exhibit their new products and support various cultural activities. The country is visited by several famous writers, who share their impressions with the public and dictate conferences. It is an event organized by the Book Chamber, with the support of government.
Other interesting events are (the exact dates vary from year to year, please confirm the time for each year):
- The International Fair of Flowers and Coffee, Boquete
- Agricultural Fair in Tanara Chepo
- San Sebastián de Ocu
- La Chorrera International Fair.
- Orange Fair, Churuquita Grande, Penonome.
- La Candaleria, in Bugaba.
- Santa Fe Fair, Veraguas.
- Industrial, Agricultural, Craft and Tourism Fair in Veraguas, Soná.
- Santa Fe, Darién.
- Valle de Tonosi.
- San Jose de David International Fair.
- San Jose de Tole.
- ExpoCosta Fair in Nuevo Tonosí – Colón.
- Fair in Colmón, Macaracas.
- Chitra, Calobre, Veraguas.
- Agriculture Fair in Costas de Colón.
- Colon National Fair.
- Fair in Torti, Chepo.
- Azuero International Fair.
- Orchid Expo in Bouquete.
- Villa Rosario, Capira.
- Folklore, craft and commercial fair in Penonomé.
- Fair in San Antonia de Padua, Puetro Armuelles.
- Flower Fair of the Holy Spirit, Las Minas, Herrera.
- Fair of the Sea (Feria del Mar), Bocas del Toro.
- Changuinola International Fair, Bocas del Toro.
- Camarón Arriba Santa Rosa (Shrimp Fair), Bugaba Chiriqui.
- Craft fair in Dolega.
- Isla Tigre (Tiger Island), San Blas.
- Fair Rambala, Bocas del Torro.
- San Andrés, Bugaba, Chiriqui.
- Highlands Fair(Tierras Altas), Bugaba, Chiriquí.
Festivales and national events
- Encuentro Folklorico Canajagua, January
- Anton Christ of Esquipulas, January.
- Diablos and Congos Festival, Chepigana Darien, March.
- Sugarcane Festival, March.
- Bulla and Bullerengue Festival in Darien, March.
- Pintao Hat Festival in Coclé, April.
- Festival of Corpus Christi in Villa de Los Santos, June.
- San Pedro Patron in Colorada de Veraguas, June.
- Monkey Festival in Bijao Bugaba in Chiriqui, July.
- Santa Librada Holiday, July.
- National Pollera Festival, July.
- Ocu Manito Festival, August.
- Panama Foundation, August 15.
- Soná Foundation, September 12.
- Marjoram Festival, September.
- World Tourism Day, September 27.
- Mountaineer Festival in Los Pozos, Herrera, October.
- Festival del Torito Guapo: 13 to 17 October.
- Chitré District Foundation, October 19.
- Aguadulce Foundation, Obtober 19.
- Black Christ in Portobelo, October 21.
- Festival Cafe Rio Sereno in Chiriqui, October.
- Parade in Chitre dedicated to its Foundation, October.
- Ladies Parade Carretas in Pedasi, October.
- Women Cry in Sona, November.
- Grito in Santiago, Veraguas, November
- Civic Parade in David, Chiriqui, November.
- Grito de Independencia in Villa de los Santos, November.
- Mi Ranchito Festival in Rio de Jesus, November.
- Santa Catalina Holiday, Pedasi, November.
Carnivals and Semana Santa
Carnivals - February (usually 3rd decade).
Semana Santa (Easter Week) – First decade of April.
Source: Tourism Authority of Panama.
What to see and do
The Panama Canal at 80 km long is one of the modern wonders of the world. A visit to the Miraflores Locks and visitors center is a must see. Travel agencies can arrange boat trips on Gatun Lake with its island wildlife and good fishing, and a transit of the canal - once-in-a-lifetime experience! Don’t miss the graceful lines of the Bridge of the Americas. You can also take a "Safari" style tour to visit the areas adjacent to the Canal and its banks, with interesting activities such as observation of wildlife in Lake Gatun.
There are safe areas for diving, snorkelling, kayaking or just swimming at your leisure, while admiring one of beautiful and small waterfalls. Despite the high rise buildings and a skyline reminiscent of Hong Kong, with bright lights and commercial centers, Panama City is the only city in the world that has a tropical rain forest within its city limits. Its beaches and harbor are beautiful, especially at sunset, and views from the palm-lined Amador Causeway with its elegant restaurants, superb. The history of Panama City can be traced through its origins in Panama La Vieja, supposedly sacked by the pirate Henry Morgan, and “neuva Panama” now known as Casco Viejo. Take trips to the interior for highland springtime in the mountains of El Valle or Chiriqui, Click here for more information for these beautiful areas. Climb Panama’s highest point, the extinct volcano of Volcan Baru. Visit dairy, coffee, flower, and vegetable farms in the bread-basket province of Chiriqui.
River rafting is at its best here, together with hiking, climbing and bird watching. Visit the beautiful beaches of the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, or the Pearl Islands, Bocas del Toro and San Blas: for more information Click here . No wonder these areas have been chosen by twelve countries for their television programs “Survivor”. The biodiversity and the geographical location of Panama on its land bridge (only 50 km. wide at its narrowest) have lead to an incredible variety of plant and animal life. Wilderness regions including rainforests and cloud forests Click here in designated national parks. Panama is home to 940 recorded species of birds and includes habitats for 125 animal species found nowhere else in the world. With 1518 islands and 2988 km of coast line, there is plenty of space for water sports.
Deep sea fishing is world class. In marine parks on both coasts reefs are found where diving and snorkeling are rewarding experiences. Surfing and whale watching are also popular. One of the hottest new attractions is Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, a special area for observing wildlife which is managed by the Avifauna Eugene Eisenmann Foundation, founded in 2000 honouring the ornithologist of the same name. Its main attractions are the Visitors Center, the Observation Tower, and trails system within the forest, which is approximately 1 km. From the center you can photograph birds as orioles, weaving their nests on a “Higueron Tree”, as well as monkeys and other animals. The center has experienced guides, a souvenir shop and restrooms. It is opened around 6:00 and 10:00 a.m. accepting a maximum of 25 people only, given the fact that this is the time when animals and birds are most active. The objective is to minimize the impact on wildlife and their habitat. Between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. availability increases to 50 visitors. The ticket price is $30.00 from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and $20 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Make sure that you visit their page because the location is tricky http://www.pipelineroad.org/en.
What to buy
Souvenirs from Panama do not usually include the Panama hat – these are usually made in Ecuador, despite being made famous by the balding Ferdinand de Lesseps when he was building the first canal. There are finely woven straw hats from Panama can be found in the towns of Ocu and Penonome. Duty free items may be purchased in the Duty Free Zone of Colon. However, outlets in Panama City can arrange to send an item from the Zona Libre directly to the airport where you can collect it when leaving the country. Handicrafts include the brightly colored molas, a multilayered textile sewn by Kuna Indian women.
The Wounaan and Embera Indians make baskets woven so tightly that they will hold water. They also make wood and tagua carvings. Tagua is a nut commonly known as vegetable ivory. Replicas of Huacas – traditional objects made before the arrival of the Spanish that probably convey religious or spiritual meanings, these can be purchased in various materials from gold to clay. In addition to handcrafted souvenirs, Panama is developing an interesting art market, boosted by the production of paintings, sculptures and other manifestations of visual artists from Latin America, Europe and the United States. Prestigious art galleries and specialists can provide you with the information you need to have access to the best of art, being offered in the capital.